The Leaflet: Florida and Tennessee Are Blazing the School Choice Trail

Published May 3, 2019

A school voucher bill in Florida is about to cross the legislative finish line. Adopted by the state Senate during the past week, the bill passed the House on Tuesday and now awaits the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a staunch school choice advocate.

What could be the latest addition to the Sunshine State’s school choice platform, the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, would direct $130 million of public funds to scholarship-funding organizations that grant K–12 tuition vouchers to eligible students. Children from a family of four with a household income up to $77,250 would qualify for the scholarship, although lower-income families would receive preference. Each voucher would be equivalent to 95 percent of the state district average per-pupil funding, and it could be redeemed at participating private schools.

Passage of the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program is a response to the 13,000 students currently waiting for a spot in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which is the largest school choice program in the nation, in terms of participation. When the bill becomes law, it will be the Sunshine State’s second voucher program and fifth school choice program.

The Florida bill passed just one day before Tennessee’s House and Senate agreed on the final version of an education savings account (ESA) bill. Soon to be the Volunteer State’s second school choice program, the bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Bill Lee, who has championed it since taking office this year.

The legislation would provide an estimated $7,300 annually to eligible students in low-performing schools. The ESA program would begin in the 2021–22 school year with 5,000 students. It would eventually be capped at 15,000. ESAs are the most robust type of school choice program. ESAs are loaded with state funds each year and come with a parent-controlled debit card that can be used to purchase a variety of educational expenses, including tuition, tutoring, and educational therapies. 

Parents and kids in Florida and Tennessee will surely celebrate their expanded educational opportunities. An American Federation for Children survey of Volunteer State voters conducted in February 2019 found 78 percent support ESAs, with 75 percent of independents and 68 percent of Democrats providing support for the reform. Additionally, a February 2019 survey by the Foundation for Excellence in Education found 78 percent of registered Florida voters support school choice.

The popularity of these programs is not surprising considering that copious empirical research on vouchers and ESAs shows that they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

What We’re Working On

Health Care
Work Requirements Help Preserve Medicaid Assistance for the Truly Needy
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines a proposal in North Carolina that would create work requirements for the state’s Medicaid program. “Medicaid should focus on encouraging able-bodied recipients who are enrolled in these programs to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on government aid. The real focus of these programs must be to provide temporary or supplemental assistance while encouraging work and independence,” wrote Glans.

Budget & Tax
California’s Proposed Corporate Tax Hikes Would Kill Jobs
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans discusses a bill in the Golden State that would increase the corporate income tax rate by two percentage points to 10.84 percent. Worse for financial institutions, these companies would have to pay a corporate tax rate of 12.84 percent. Although corporate tax rates may seem like a good way to soak the rich, legislators should be aware these taxes are ultimately borne by workers (through lower wages) and customers (through increased prices).

How I Escaped the Columbine Shooting, a Survivor’s Story (Guest: Rep. Patrick Neville)
In this episode of the Heartland Daily Podcast, State Government Relations Manager Lennie Jarratt is joined by Colorado State Rep. Patrick Neville, a survivor of the Columbine school shooting, to discuss how he escaped and how that day profoundly changed his life. As a state representative, he proposes solutions to help keep students safe. These include hardening security, allowing teachers to volunteer to be trained and armed, and providing Child Safety Accounts to empower parents to find safe alternatives to unsafe schools.

Energy & Environment
Researchers Say Renewable Energy Mandates Cause Large Electricity Price Increases
In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson writes about a new working paper from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago that shows renewable energy mandates (REMs) are dramatically increasing retail electricity prices. The paper finds seven years after REMs are enacted, renewables’ share of electricity generation increases by only 1.8 percent. REMs also raise retail electricity prices by 11 percent.

From Our Free Market Friends
Overtime Surge Fuels $400M Payroll Hike at MTA
A press release from the Empire Center blasts New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for a spike in overtime payments. The MTA consists of the New York City Transit, Long Island Railroad, Metro North, and MTA Bus Company. Overtime payments climbed nearly 16 percent from 2017 to 2018. Newly posted payroll records show MTA payroll was $418 million in 2018—$82 million more than the revenue expected annually from its latest round of fare, ticket, and toll hikes.


Click here to subscribe to The Leaflet, the weekly government relations e-newsletter.